Peter Hum – A Boy's Journey (2010)

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photo: Bruno Schlumberger

by S. Victor Aaron

Peter Hum is, in a few ways, like me. We’re a couple of middle-aged guys who both love jazz, love to write about jazz and critique jazz records, and post our reviews on the internet. I’ve been an admirer of Hum’s jazz blog of the online version of the Ottawa Citizen for several years, now. He not only reviews jazz records, but manages to come up with interesting topics about jazz: one of my favorites was when he pointed out how jazz musicians could learn a thing or two from the rock band KISS about promoting themselves better and, by golly, he made the case. Sometimes he seeks to make you chuckle. Other times, he’s conducting interviews with jazz heavies who visit Canada’s capital city and promotes the town’s local jazz scene. When he review records, he does so honestly, knowledgeably and courteously. Even when he doesn’t like the record. These are things that compelled me to put his blog on our blogroll some time back, just so I’d have an easy way to check up on what he writes about next.

Hum is in other ways, well, not like me at all. He’s both a long time professional journalist — he’s an editor at the aforementioned Citizen — and a lifelong, self-taught professional musician as well. That goes a long way explain the appeal of his jazz musings: he knows what he’s writing about and he knows how to write it. Late last year, Hum at long last released his first album, A Boy’s Journey, placing himself in the same position as the jazz artists whose records he passes judgement on. I tend of think of that as “putting his money where his mouth is.”

Not that Hum would care to be like anyone in particular he listens to or writes about; he’s been at this long enough that he can only be himself. That’s pretty evident from the track listing of ten modern jazz originals that were written mostly with family and friends in mind, and the relaxed tenor of the sessions that scores high on professionalism but low on pretentiousness. Leveraging a grant from his Ottawa home town, Hum pulled in some fantastic musicians from Ottawa and Montreal he’s had some close associations with over the years to help him bring his tunes to life. Hum handles piano and Rhodes while adding Kenji Omae on tenor sax, Nathan Cepelinski on alto and soprano saexes, lifelong friend Alec Walkington on bass and Ted Warren on drums.

Hum’s songs have substance despite the simple melodies at the heart of them because the elaborations lay underneath where they enhance, not clutter the songs. Likewise, his piano stylings put a premium on touch, harmony and sentiment. You won’t find knotty chord clusters or sweeping runs out of him. Peter Hum the music reviewer often frets at in-your-face performances that put prowess above delivering the song; Peter Hum the musician is all about delivering the song.

 The collection couldn’t have had a better opening selection. “Take The High Road” (video of live performance below) epitomizes Hum’s hopeful, light-on-its-feet approach to composition and performance. It’s one of those instantly agreeable songs with a whistle-along chorus expressed by Omea and Cepelinski but most importantly, Hum resists any urge to overplay it: on the first solo, by Omae, everyone else but Walkington ceases playing for the first half of it. But the melody plays silently in your head because early on it’s already imprinted on your mind. “High Road” stands out over the other selections but it’s hardly the only highlight.

Hum explores blues form with the firm bass walking on “New Toy,” and “C.G.,” injects a mild splash of RnB through use of an electric piano on “Big Lou,” and takes on a tender ballad form unaccompanied with understated beauty on “La tendresse, s.v.p.” As co-producer of this record, Hum came up with some imaginative ways to arrange the songs around the talent he brought on board, such as the intertwining saxes on “Midway” that mimic an effective vocal duet. Omae and Cepelinski (who is finishing studies at Berklee) modulate their styles well according to the song, playing gracefully on the lightly waltzing “A Boy’s Journey” and more soulful and uninhibited on perkier numbers like “C.G.” and “Unagi.”

The proceedings close with Hum’s most ambitious composition of the album, the suite-structured “Three Wishes.” It’s one that goes on a bell-curve shape of moods, culminating with Warren’s rumbling rowdy and rolling drums.

A Boy’s Journey is a tribute to Peter Hum’s father, who as a small boy travelled from Ottawa to China and back to Ottawa again ten years later. For the son, it has undoubtedly been a long journey as well: he took up music as a boy, but as an adult he never quit his day job to make it a full time profession. But he also never stopped playing, even if it was regulated to nights and weekends. A lifetime of working at his “hobby” has finally led him decades later to make this record. The end of his own journey finds him at a very good place musically.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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